The COVID-19 pandemic has currently overtaken every other health issue throughout the world. There are numerous ways in which this will impact existing public health issues. Here we reflect on the interactions between COVID-19 and tuberculosis (TB), which still ranks as the leading cause of death from a single infectious disease globally. There may be grave consequences for existing and undiagnosed TB patients globally, particularly in low and middle income
countries (LMICs) where TB is endemic and health services poorly equipped. TB control programmes will be strained due to diversion of resources, and an inevitable loss of health system focus, such that some activities cannot or will not be prioritised. This is likely to lead to a reduction in quality of TB care and worse outcomes. Further, TB patients often have underlying co-morbidities and lung damage that may make them prone to more severe COVID-19. The symptoms of TB and COVID-19 can be similar, with for example cough and fever. Not only can this create diagnostic confusion, but it could worsen the stigmatization of TB patients especially in LMICs, given the fear of COVID-19. Children with TB are a vulnerable group especially likely to suffer as part of the “collateral damage”. There will be a confounding of symptoms and epidemiological data through co-infection, as happens already with TB–HIV, and this will require unpicking. Lessons for COVID-19 could be learned from the vast experience of running global TB control programmes, while the astonishingly rapid and relatively well co-ordinated response to COVID-19 demonstrates how existing programmes could be significantly improved.

Togun et al